By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
Officials watch an instant replay after a San Francisco 49ers touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of a divisional playoff NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - The NFL officiating department will help referees rule on instant replay reviews starting next season.League owners passed a rule Tuesday allowing referees to consult with director of officiating Dean Blandino and his staff to help determine whether a call should be upheld or overturned. NFL officials said the change should speed up the process.Blandino and other staff will be monitoring the games from league offices in New York, and they will immediately begin reviewing challenges before the referee even gets to his monitor. They can make recommendations on what replays to look at, but the referee still will make the final decision.Rich McKay, Falcons president and co-chairman of the influential competition committee, called it "kind of a proof of concept to see how this works. We feel pretty comfortable with it, though.""What we do like is we take the true experts in replay, those in New York, to be able to communicate with the referees who have the ultimate decision," McKay said. "We just think we get a more consistent decision-making process."Blandino said the new process will be faster and make more eyes available to help in the reviews."We'll be reviewing all the angles the network is providing, in essence finding what is the best reviewable aspect, and getting a baseline for the referee," he said. "Then we will begin the communication process with the referee once he is done speaking to the coach and announcing the challenge."Consistency is what we are striving for in officiating and this will definitely help us in that area."One coach, Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, a member of the competition committee, believes the entire procedure has been upgraded."By consulting with New York, they can speed up the review process while they talk to the referee," Lewis said. "They can tell the referee: 'Here are the shots all set for you to look at.'"Blandino wasn't sure this change would lead to more challenges, noting that coaches will still lose a timeout for an incorrect challenge.Players no longer will be allowed to dunk the football over the crossbar of the goalposts in celebration.Blandino said the NFL is making a clarification of the rules for mutual respect and sportsmanship."We put a rule in several years ago about not using props on the football field: the football, the pylon," he said. "This is just expanding upon that rule to include the crossbar of the goalpost. We had the situation with (Saints tight end) Jimmy Graham knocking the uprights off kilter last season and it delayed the game."We have a potential rule change where we could raise the uprights, so you may have more issues with that if guys are dunking."The owners also banned roll-up blocks to the side of a player. In the past, the rule only barred such blocks from behind."We saw some plays on tape that we just felt like we needed to expand that protection," McKay said.Commissioner Roger Goodell believes small changes like that one, along with other recent rule changes, have made the game safer."We went through that (data) in greater detail with the outside firm that's been tracking that for us and it's very clear that the rule changes we have made had the positive impact that we intended," Goodell said Monday. "While there are some that say it has had a negative (impact) - as an example, ACL injuries being up - that's not the case. What we've seen is that players have adjusted to the rules and they are finding that target zone and it is a safer, better game because of it."A dozen other proposals for rules or bylaw changes were being considered by the owners, with votes on them expected Wednesday.___(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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